Sour Cream Cake
Place item was collected
North Logan, UT
Debra Sara Bowen
Point of Discovery/Informant Bio
Debra [Debbie] Sara Bowen lives in North Logan, Utah. She has four daughters, with whom she has shared much of her culinary knowledge, and one beloved son. She was raised in Mantua, Utah (Pronounced "MAN-uh-way" or "MAN-tuh-way" by locals), where she learned most of her now hand-recorded recipes from her mother. She grew up in a quasi-urbanized rural area. She worked on her uncle's beet farm, and was familiar with farming of all kinds, including dairy farming. Her family, however, did not grow up on a farm. She and her three sisters know and sometimes tell the origin story of this foodway. She is the collector's mother.
Debbie and her sisters tell this backstory whenever the subject of baking comes up among their friends or family, or whenever a festive occasion calls for a moist chocolate cake. Debbie shares this story with people whenever the subject of slightly odd ingredients for delicious recipes arises as a good example of culinary oddities that are also delicious. The recipe itself was collected by Debbie from her mother “probably when I left home for college”, and was written on a colored note card. The note card is kept in a little box in her cupboard with a number of other recipes, along with other recipe collections and some ingredients, including vanilla extract, honey, baking powder and baking soda, canola cooking spray, among others. The note card sports a stain of some kind, and is frayed at the edges—obvious signs of use over a period of more than thirty years. The more frequent re-occurrences of the telling of this backstory are between Debbie and her sisters’ direct family members. Debbie is less likely to tell a niece or nephew of this story than her own daughters, but more likely to recount the legend to a niece or nephew than to her sons. Alternatively, if the cake is brought to an event—a potluck, for example—Debbie is likely to tell as many friends in attendance as possible about the history of the sour cream cake, emphasizing the fact that sour cream is used as an ingredient, and the phenomenon of the absence of any “sour taste” or “sour cream taste”, despite the presence of the sour cream in the cake. Debbie finds it obvious that the story of the sour cream cake would not be shared in an official setting, such as work, etc. except if her cake had been prepared and brought to some sort of party or other event where foodways would be appropriate to present and discuss. In general, the sharing of this story would only be appropriate when in connection to the cake, or its unusual ingredient as it is used in culinary art. If it had been brought to an event, or if the subject of the cake were brought up, or a similar story—one involving unusual ingredients in a culinary confection—were brought up in conversation, then Debbie would find the foodway's backstory to be an appropriate addition to the conversation. She considers the backstory inseparable from the recipe. The foodway was collected in Debbie’s kitchen when asked about special or interesting recipes. Her kitchen was strewn with evidence of cooking and preparing meals, and while she told the foodway she was cutting a watermelon into square sections and readying it for refrigeration.
[Interviewer asks about meaningful family recipes]
Okay well um, when I was growing up my mom used to always make sour cream cake, and the reason we she’d make that a lot—and that kinda sounds weird, but the, the sour cream made the cake really really moist, and it was usually a chocolate cake, but she we would get the milk from the dairy, uh, that was just down the street from us, and he would put it in just, big, large, one-gallon bottles with a lid on it, like a great big pickle bottle you can see now, that was milk, a gallon, bottle of milk, and, he we would buy them from him and bring them home and then we’d wash ‘em out and take ‘em back and, get another bottle of milk, and so and the, the, cream would rise to the top and there would be, like, a two-inch, cream header on the top of that milk, every time so she’d skim the cream off, put it in in the fridge, and then, um, we’d drink the milk, and then that cream, later we’d take it and put it in this sour cream cake, so, the cake is really moist it’s a really delicious cake, and um I don’t know if she would sour the milk or the cream would just, get sour by just sitting in my fridge, I’m not sure, but the cream would just, you know, get a little tart or whatever. Anyway she’d put it in the cake, and, delicious cake. But that is a memory I have of my mom making sour cream cake and I have that sour cream cake recipe.
[Conversation ends with Debbie remarking that if she doesn’t have the original recipe, or the correct one, that she would just ask “Grandma” for it. Closing remarks by the interviewer, and the interview ends.]
When Debbie recounted this story at the time of collection, she obviously found it heartwarming; she told the story with smiles and an excited and gladly reminiscent mood. When the subject of interesting or especially important recipes came up, the foodway and its backstory immediately came to mind, and she pulled down her box of recipes from a cupboard, set the box down, and fished for a few moments through tightly-crammed note cards with recipes written on them until she found the recipe in question. With a happy manner, she launched into a story about her younger life and how her mother made the sour cream used in the recipe. However, Debbie had grown accustomed to her daughters asking her to recount memories from her childhood, and told this story in a more autobiographical manner than she would under normally circumstances, such as at a party; her reminiscent mood was not a usual texture to her telling of the foodway's backstory. If she were in a setting where she served the cake to people for any reason, she would find her friends, or anyone interested in the recipe of the cake, or what made the cake so moist, she would first confide that it contained sour cream in a manner appropriate to the culinary prowess of her audience—with great drama in the case of younger or inexperienced bakers or cooks, and less dramatic in the case of experienced cooks, especially if those cooks are already familiar with the effects of sour cream in baked goods—then recount the story of its origin in her life in a very excited, and less reminiscent manner, explaining that the presence of sour cream in the cake has an extraordinary moistening effect, without spoiling the sweetness or taste of the dessert.
Dr. Lynne S. McNeill
Semester and year
G1: Groups/Social Customs
Bowen, Ben, "Sour Cream Cake" (2017). USU Student Folklore Fieldwork. Paper 244.